Lesley Griffiths, Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs
For all the areas covered by my portfolio, the implications of the EU Referendum in June are profound. In Agriculture, Fisheries, Food, Animal Health, Climate and the Environment our legislation and funding is steeped in the EU’s operating framework. This means the referendum result not only brings significant challenges, but equally it also brings forward the opportunity to shape a new way forward for Wales.
Following the result, I have quickly initiated a process of engagement to ensure we identify the full implications to the sectors and policy areas covered by my Department. In doing so, I hosted two key roundtable meetings in July, following on from which my officials have arranged a series of four cross cutting workshops with stakeholders from across Wales. The workshops have provided a vital opportunity to hear people’s concerns and aspirations, and look at both the common issues across sectors and those particular to individual sectors. A further workshop is arranged for 3rd October to draw together the input we have received, with a further roundtable meeting which I will host on 21st October.
Among the key issues raised to date, the workshop sessions have strongly reinforced the need for our businesses to continue to have unfettered access to the EU Single Market. In addition they have underlined that, in order to be able to deliver the best outcome for Wales, it is vital the devolved nature of these areas is respected so we are able to ensure the policies, laws and funding which replace those of the EU are fully responsive to our unique context in Wales. The workshops also underlined the significant progress made on outcomes in areas such as environment and animal health and the key link between these standards and our reputation for the production of high quality goods and services.
Over the summer recess, I had the chance to attend a number of agricultural shows and undertake visits across Wales, and concern over the future financial position was one of the most common issues people raised with me. Of course, EU funding continues, as do our obligations, until the UK formally leaves the EU. All existing Rural Development Programme (RDP) contracts will be honoured. Furthermore, the recent assurance from UK Treasury means any application approved before the Autumn Statement at the end of November will be funded for its life time. This mirrors the arrangement that also applies to Structural Funds, the European Territorial Co-operation and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund. In the case of RDP Glastir Advanced agri-environment contracts, we consider this guarantee includes agreements currently submitted with my Department that would, in the normal course of business, be formally signed in January 2017, to coincide with EU schedules. On that basis I have instructed my officials to resume detailed contract negotiations with applicants.
The UK Treasury has also given an assurance to fully fund the direct payments (BPS) element of the CAP until 2020. It is important farmers receiving those payments understand all current regulatory requirements continue to apply whilst they are in receipt of such funding. Whilst I welcome the progress reflected in the assurances from the UK Treasury, I will continue to press for the UK Government to confirm funding to Wales will continue at the current rate, for the full lifetime of the current programmes and beyond. More detailed information on our various EU funding schemes will be available shortly on the relevant sections of our website.
A fair and clear financial position alone will not build a sustainable future for Wales. I am, therefore, committed to ensuring we continue our active engagement and take a collaborative approach to developing the best way forward for Wales. The work we have already done through the Well-being of Future Generations Act and the Environment Act, which both draw from UN agreements, give us a strong foundation on which to build and put us in the best position of any of the nations within the UK. Through our natural resources we also have a tremendous opportunity to improve our prosperity and future resilience and ensure Wales does secure the well-being of both current and future generations. As the first key step under the Environment Act, Natural Resources Wales will very shortly be publishing the first State of Natural Resources Report (SoNaRR). The report will provide a valuable evidence base and comes at a timely stage as we seek to build Wales’ future and in particular it will feed into the development of the first statutory Natural Resources Policy on which I will consult later this year.
It has been more than 17 years since devolution and areas within my portfolio have been wholly devolved since that time. Our extensive initial discussions with stakeholders over the summer have been overwhelmingly positive, and leave me in no doubt we will be able to work effectively together to address the challenges, realise the opportunities and shape a new future for Wales. For the exit negotiations and the new trading relations that follow, the devil will, of course, be in the detail and that is why it is vital the impact of any options are looked at for the whole of the UK, including our unique context in Wales. Given the stakes are too high to risk unintended consequences to people’s lives and livelihoods, it is vital that Wales not only has a place at the negotiations table, but this is also accompanied by a reformed governance framework for the United Kingdom. As a first step I have, therefore, invited Ministers representing similar portfolios to my own from across the UK to meet here in Cardiff this autumn.